Muslim worshippers walk around the Kaaba, Islam's holiest shrine, at the Grand Mosque in Saudi Arabia's holy city of Mecca Image Credit: AFP

Cairo: Egypt has vowed to penalise private tour operators who arranged trips for unregistered pilgrims following reports that hundreds, mainly Egyptians, died during last week's Hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.

Egyptian Prime Minister Moustafa Madbouli said investigations will target any travel agency that organized journeys for unregistered pilgrims and failed to provide them with necessary services.

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Saudi Arabia has repeatedly emphasised that a Hajj visa is mandatory for the annual pilgrimage, which coincided with extreme heat this year. They cracked down on unauthorised tours within their borders, stating that a visit visa does not qualify for Hajj participation.

"Firm decisions will be taken, and the toughest penalties will be imposed to ensure these violations don't happen again," Madbouli declared in media remarks.

The number of pilgrim deaths remains unclear for now, according to Egyptian authorities. Many were unregistered pilgrims, making it difficult to determine the exact numbers.

Registered pilgrims from Egypt, the most populous Arab country, totaled 50,752 this year, according to official figures. There were 28 deaths among them.

President Abdul Fattah Al Sissi has ordered the formation of a task force led by Madbouli to handle the crisis and investigate its causes.

Al Sissi has also stressed "the necessity of immediate coordination" with Saudi authorities to facilitate the repatriation of deceased pilgrims' bodies, a presidential statement said.

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Teams from the Egyptian Foreign Ministry are currently visiting hospitals in Saudi Arabia to gather data on Egyptian pilgrims receiving medical treatment, deceased pilgrims, and missing pilgrims. They will then compare this information to what relatives in Egypt have provided.

The Egyptian Foreign Ministry said it is intensifying efforts to locate missing Egyptian pilgrims in Saudi Arabia.

Some other Arab countries have confirmed deaths among their pilgrims during this year's Hajj. Jordan reported 75 deaths, while Tunisia said 49 nationals, mostly unregistered pilgrims, passed away.

Hajj is one of Islam's five obligatory duties. Muslims who are physically and financially able must perform Hajj at least once in their lifetime.

Around 1.8 million Muslims, including 1.6 million from abroad, participated in this year's Hajj.